Let’s just say that Paul Newman and Carl Haas would have been very proud of what transpired Saturday night in Indianapolis.
A reunion of the Newman/Haas team brought together former drivers, mechanics and engineers from three decades of Indy car racing excellence in an organization shaped by the very different personalities of their owners.
From 1983-2011, Newman/Haas rang up 107 victories and eight championships in CART, Champ Car and the Indy Racing League. Brought together by Mario Andretti, the odd couple’s squad operated out of Lincolnshire, Ill. and the actor turned racer and the racing businessman shared a passion for competition.
Newman/Haas ceased Indy car racing following 2011, three years after Paul passed away and when Carl began suffering from Alzheimer’s. But, thanks to the efforts of longtime NHR soldier Laura Cooper, the band got back together in Broad Ripple.
And one only needed to see the turnout to understand the camaraderie that existed.
Cristiano da Matta came all the way from Brazil, Sebastian Bourdais flew up from Florida and Michael Andretti called on some of his staff to help set up the evening. Tim Bumps flew in from California, Pedro Campuzeno left Joe Gibbs Racing to see some old pals, Don Hoevel drove his mom from Chicago and the Murphys rolled in from Canada to greet their old family.
Rocky Rocquelin, who spent five years at NHR and now engineers world champion Sebastian Vettel, sent a video message from England as at least 75 of the 200 people employed by NHR through the years showed up to remember the good old days.
“Paul and Carl were not only good owners and great guys but they were sportsmen,” said Joe Flynn, the first mechanic hired in 1983 when Newman/Haas made its debut in CART. “They were willing to race even if it meant reaching into their own pockets, which they did, and it was an honor to work for people like that.”
The Murphs, Peter and Mary-Lin Murphy, began catering for Newman/Haas in 1985 and grew to become fast friends rather than hired hands.
“They were such good people and along with Bernie (Haas, Carl’s wife),” said Mary-Lin Murphy. “Paul was such a normal person and he made things so easy and so much fun.”
Added Murph: “They were both so respectful and treated us so well. Paul would take us out to dinner or make me sit down while he went and got me a beer and Joanne (Woodward) would even help Mary-Lin wash dishes.
“Then at night the team would come by and sit around drinking a beer and telling stories. It was such a delight to work in that environment.”
John Tzouanakis, who spent all 28 years with Newman/Haas as a mechanic and then team manager, loved his owners’ style.
“They weren’t hands on and they simply left you alone and let everyone do their job,” said Tzouanakis. “Carl ran his business, Paul flew for the races and the team ran along smoothly. We were expected to win but they were both very fair.
“And I think racing was their country club. They could get away from people and enjoy their passion.”
Michael Andretti (ABOVE, driving a Newman/Haas Lola in 1996) captured 40 races and the 1991 CART championship for the team his father brokered and liked their desire and openness.
“I loved the fact they would do whatever it took to win,” he said. “I also liked the fact they listened to me when I had suggestions and I had a lot of input. It was a great atmosphere.”
Roger Penske was the gold standard when Newman/Haas broke into CART but Mario won a title in only the team’s second year of existence (1984, TOP).
“We weren’t regimented and well scrubbed like Penske; we were kind of scruffy compared to them,” reasoned Colin Duff, who started in 1985 and is still one of three employees restoring cars at the NHR shop. “But we knew the race cars were important, not how we looked, and there was a winning attitude all the time.”
Bumps was recruited from Team Penske to be Michael’s crew chief from 1995-’97 and saw an instant difference. “I was the outsider, the Penske guy, but I was welcomed and it was like working for mom and dad. It was fun.”
Tim “Dogg” Homberg, a 20-year-man with Newman/Haas, echoed that feeling.
“There was so much enthusiasm, a bunch of pretty spirited guys, and it was led by Paul Newman … he was a big part of it,” said Homberg, who now helps Andretti Autosport on race weekends. “I miss those old days and those two guys.”
John Littlefield, a 17-year-vet with Newman/Haas, now works in North Carolina at BE Aerospace, but he wasn’t about to miss this gathering.
“It was a family atmosphere and these were my brothers and it was a joy to come to work, no matter how long the hours,” he said.
Bourdais delivered four consecutive Champ Car crowns to Newman/Haas as they refused to join the Indy Racing League.
“It was very unique with Carl leading the team, Paul providing the spirit and everyone driven to win. And when they ran out of (sponsorship) money they chipped in to keep us going,” he noted.
“It didn’t feel like a job, it was passion and I was lucky enough to get paid to drive for them.”
Da Matta, the 2002 Champ Car king (ABOVE) who nearly lost his life in a testing accident in 2006, spent a couple years in Formula 1which made him relish his time at Newman/Haas even more.
“Those were the best years of my life,” said Shorty. “Carl and Paul were so good to me and my career and it was just a joy to win for them because they loved racing.”
It was a little chippy at the beginning as the two Can-Am competitors joined forces at Mario’s suggestion. John Syzmanski, who began with Haas in Formula 5000, sold Formula Fords, ran the marketing program while also serving as mechanic, spotter and stand-up comic, has the longest-running relationship with the Chicago businessman.
“They were hardly friends in Can-Am so Paul would wind Carl up pretty good at the start,” recalled Syzmanski. “But it went from an adversarial relationship to a meaningful, genuine relationship and they cared about each other and this team.”
As Mario often says, it was the unlikeliest of partnerships that blossomed into one of the most formidable racing teams in North America.
Dressed in all white most of the time and looking like a painter instead of a Hollywood mega star, Newman loved to time pit stops, bullshit with the crew, stand on the podium and just get lost in the world that enveloped the last 40 years of his life.
With an unlit cigar usually clamped in his mouth, Haas often seemed more like Mr. Magoo than Penske but he was a sharp cookie and a racer to the core who stole Nigel Mansell from Bernie Ecclestone in 1993.
Together, they inspired loyalty like we may never see again.
Tim Coffeen, who spent 23 years working with Mario, Michael, Mansell and da Matta, tried to put the evening into perspective.
“I think we all know that Carl and Paul were great men and they put together a first-class effort for 30 years. It’s great to see Michael here, he helped make this team, and there’s just a lot of history in this room.
“This was a special group of people and this is a night I’ll always treasure.”